The American Sports Mythos is fucking up your gains.
Here's what you can ask yourself to keep your progress going further.
The American Sports Mythos is fucking up your gains.
Head Coach and Next Level founder Christian Matyi – a/k/a "XN" – gives notoriously complex answers to even the most simple of questions. He'd always rather you "think more" than "know more." So you can only imagine what'll happen when there wasn't any question even asked . . .
You never know what his many years of coaching will inspire him to claim as "relevant" to your progress.
The American Sports Mythos is fucking up your gains.
Here's what you can ask yourself to keep your progress going further.
Great physiques are the privilege of great athletes.
Strength is said to be made in the gym.
Definition is said to be made in the kitchen.
But composition the advancement of either lies on the field.
The thrill of the commitment can be invigorating, but like any well, it can run dry. We mustn't keep trying to draw from it just because the first sip was so refreshing. If you want to "have it easy" and "just let it flow as it will," then you have to accept that it can flow right into the gutter.Read More
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The image is one of those vintage magazine shots, where the muscular dude on the cover is posing like a Greek statue. It was shown to me by an athlete, and I was captivated.
"This," I thought. "This explains what The Next Level means when we say there's no difference between solid bodybuilding and solid strength lifting."
These images always captivate us when we come across them. Glimpsing the past is always fascinating. But when it comes to the retro muscle magazine images, there is another message being declared that we do not see so much in our own media any more. And this message holds an important lesson for you.
We often arrogantly consider our current standards for what constitutes "muscular body" as somehow more advanced than what came before us. Yet when we look art this dude from 1938, he looks very much like many of the guys we might see pursuing bodybuilding. Or trying to accomplish a powerful lift. Or eagerly diving into CrossFit. The thing that makes his body so compelling is not that it is better or worse than our current standards; it is that it is so much the same as our standards.
Now, this guy comes from 1938. He didn't have supplements. He didn't have gyms and training facilities and CrossFit boxes and yoga studios. Heck – this dude didn't even have our precious (hear the sarcasm?) fitness industry. He only had what all humans have: the resourcefulness of his mind and the focus allowed by his interests. No doubt he had mentors and help, but he was mostly improvisationally working; his amazing physique relied more on his observational discerning than his aggressive demand for a fix.
Now, I hate that I don't have a name for the guy. However, he is here standing emblematic of all the physique athletes of this era; more specifically, emblematic of physique development in a non-industrialized format. He didn't have mags, internets, powders and chrome machines to make this work. He had food and effort and intelligence.
This perhaps proves a point that many find radical, but that you must consider seriously. The body's aesthetics can be recreated without the supplements, brand names (sorry CrossFit – you're a brand first, a program second) the D-list, self-celebrating celebrities (read: Zyzz), the science wonks that "tell you exactly how it is scientifically, without hype" (yet isn't that statement the definition of hype?) – without any of the million trappings of the industry. His body was not reliant on anything but his own resourcefulness, open-mindedness and drive for a remarkable goal.
In short: the fitness industry is completely unnecessary for your success. It is incidental. It is an add-on. It's solutions are always ever ad hoc to what you can do of your own patience and peer-engagement.
In fact, the fitness industry has complicated the matters, hasn't it? It has created all these points of focuses, and calls them all "solutions." And each focus is refined more and more specific to an end; each point of focus is separated further and further apart from the bigger landscape from which is was derived. In the name of "clarifying," it only adds confusion. By trying to convince you of a specific direction – a supplementation program, a training regiment, a scientific application – it only makes us more aware of the clutter.
Now I am not sitting here saying "it was better in them good ol' days." But what I am suggesting is you look at how the fitness industry creates separation between practices. Yet, when you choose your practices, you need to integrate them. Diet with training; rest with work; healing with attack; you have to choose your plans and make them work together, not as discrete, separate entities. You are an integrating machine, yet the fitness industry is a separating machine. You see how the two are at odds in their end-goals?
And this is seen so often with the obnoxiously harsh delineation between the pursuit of strength excellence and and pursuit of aesthetic excellence. They have been separated far too severely by the industry – so effectively separated, in fact, that many people just believe them to be fundamentally different. They are not. They are one and the same. Our buddy from 1938 knew that. In fact, he may not have even thought that the two pursuits – aesthetics and strength – needed to be separated at all. The likelihood was that he saw it as one, integrated process, which is a perception we can barely wrap our brains around today. The two sides have been so divorced from one another by the machinations of a force seeking to industrialize profits that we are confused when we try to see them as the whole that they were prior to the industry.
Oh, quick side note: the industry is only about a hundred years old, yet the pursuit of physique excellence is at least 3500 years old – give or take a millennium. That means the beliefs that came out of the fitness industry are not only new, but gravely misleading. If man has been kicking ass for almost four millennia, don't tell me that bumper plates and neon-green powder is what we've all been missing all this time. Man has been achieving aesthetic excellence and exceptional performance as one single agenda. The only thing that cleaved that agenda into various parts was a greedy industry that figured out it could sell more if it divided and conquered.
But the data supports (adopt 3500 years of data) that the vast majority of physical achievements that bear any mark of superhuman or legendary had nothing to do with the fitness industry, and were not achieved through the separation of pursuits.
So when did you get so much smarter than the millions of awesome warriors before you who got way better results on far less? When did you realize that separating the pursuits into discrete practices of "power," "strength," aesthetics" and "performance" would yield the best results? Such separations are a distraction, friend. They will not avail you the results you want until they are combined in an integrated system.
This is actually a founding principle in The Next Level; that our teams are not just pursuing bodybuilding versus just pursuing strength sports, but rather seek to pursue physique sports as an integrated whole. You are not only inadvertently pursuing one when you pursue the other, you are made more effective in the pursuit of that one if you conscientiously integrate the pursuit of the other.
This is not to disparage specialization. Of course the demands of sports require an athlete to specialize in certain capacities. But specialization is not a "long game"; specialization is a medium- or short-range practice.
Think of it this way: just because a violinist learns a complicated tune does not mean she stops playing other kinds of music. And to play other kinds of music, she must continually engage a broad form of practice; practice that is general and allows her versatility with her instrument. Who learns an instrument just to play one song? You do not specialize in a song just to then never learn to play others. In fact, if she learned a pieces of classical music, then took a break and played a cheerful reel, she may be more agile when she returns to that original classical piece. The pursuit of all the forms makes her better when she has to specialize in just on in a concert setting.
Your body is the same way. Specializing in an area can help you in other areas. Dieting strategies and their effects on the body's hormones can influence strength gains. Unique lifting forms can help evolve movement capabilities for bodybuilding contest posing. Heavy, powerful lifts can help develop the speed and performance used in functional training competition. They are all different tunes, but the goal is not to master only one song, but rather to be a master musician.
Perhaps the musical analogy can be pushed further by comparing your work to a symphony. While you may like the sound of clarinet the most, there is no doubt that a symphony is more versatile than just the clarinet alone. The whole symphony can create more sounds, play more songs, and undulate between intense and soft better than just one of it's instruments could do alone. So it is arguable to say that a clarinet-player who is also capable of conducting a symphony would be a better clarinet player.
You want to be a conductor, my friend. You want to direct all the instruments and all their power in one triumphant symphony. What songs you specialize in is up to you, but no one masters a symphony to play just one song.
And no physique athlete can be said to have truly mastered their body if they stubbornly stick to just one pursuit. Specialization in a pursuit is not the same as isolation from any others. That is what the industry wants you to believe; that to specialize means to separate your thinking from other pursuits absolutely. Then, as you get less and less gains from your pursuits that you have mastered, they will "sell" you more of their precious "solutions."
The dude from 1938 never separated his pursuits. And that body is pretty impressive – even by today's standards. Now, he had it lucky because he didn't have an industry with an agenda preying on his passions. We do. And that industry's messages – both overt and subtle – can undo our best efforts.
Specialize from time to time, but make sure you are not neglecting other pursuits for the sake of one. Explore the options and integrate them. They are not separate by design; they are separated via marketing. Put them back together.
Let's return to 1938. It was a far more captivating time.
I have said this time and time again. If you want to get stronger, faster, bigger and better looking, you need to spend more time understanding how to repair yourself, and less time worrying about how to do the damage.
Everyone in these pursuits wants to know the "best way" to get strong. Everyone wants to know the "best way" to diet. And the way these ideas are represented is as something you do "to yourself," or something you "put into yourself." They encourage you to look mainly at the input. But that is the wrong focus. To get ahead, you need to better understand the results; you need to place the majority of your focus on the output, not on the input. Once you understand the results, you can create a plan of managing those results. And that plan is most often a process of healing.
Sorry guys. You can talk all you want about what you can "do" – how big you lifted, how tight you got your abs, how amazing you performed – but the results come not from what you are able to do, but rather from understanding just what it is you've just done – and how to take care of it.
The topic was brought up by Will from the team The Beast recently in a question he posed to me:
"Being the best healer has had me fascinated since you put it up. How do we improve our ability to heal? My guess would be through a clean diet, plenty of sleep, a lot of water, and proper training. Am I anywhere near the mark on this one?"
My answer was more or less a repeat of the above point. (Excuse a little reiteration here, but I really feel that this concept can not be stressed enough.)
As with all things (and you have to see this one coming), it starts with observation. As much observation as possible. In other words: confronting each question with some sort of research:
"What needs to be healed?"
"In what specific ways has my body been damaged?"
"What are methods other people use?"
It frustrates me that so many bodybuilding and strength athletes just refuse to lay claim to the most essential component to the process: "the best bodybuilders are the best at healing themselves, not the best at damaging themselves."
Everyone is busy bragging about what they can do, But few are discussing how they take responsibility for what they have done.
Healing the body is no small idea. There are endless combinations of a multitude of systems at play. However, the good news is there are basics common to us all. Thorough rest, nurturing food choices and preventive warm-ups and cool downs are what immediately comes to mind.
However, the single biggest obstacle to healing is – you guessed it – your mind. More precisely: the will of your mind.
You are "convinced" of many things in life. And once you become convinced of a thing, well, it is rare that you will go in the opposite direction of your convictions. However, it is very possible that we are sometimes convinced of things that work against our ability to achieve our goals, yet we are unaware of the conflict because we are "convinced" we are doing right.
Know what I mean?
And so many athletes are simply "convinced" that they need to train harder, lift more, and workout more frequently. They believe deeply – to the very fabric of their being – that they must do more.
And doing more means more damage to the body.
And then, because you are so busy doing more, you don't have the proper time and resources to heal from all that additional damage.
Yet without healing, you will remain small or weak or slow or fat – or any other quality that you are trying to overcome.
So what do you do next? You start looking for more to do. You start asking for more; more training ideas, more diet strategies, more weight, more effort, more work – more, more and more! Rather than look at what you have done and how you could be taking better responsibility for the damage, you instead are convinced that the problem is you need to do something else; something more.
And you get stuck in that spiral.
You see how conviction works against us? We get convinced of one idea, and then by operating under that idea we get stuck in a loop. Only by confronting that conviction – and often perhaps shattering it and rebuilding it – will the cycle end, and we will begin progressing once more.
Conviction is the culprit behind the majority of slow progressions. Our stubborn, confident, certain minds with it's glorious, golden and pristine thoughts is actually working against what we need to grow: better healing.
(Notice how I said "better" healing. Not "more" healing.)
So, as I told will, the first step is observation. Not hasty, broad observation. Not "I'm-convinced-I-already-know-what's-there-so-I-can-skip-this-step" observation. Careful, thorough inventory-style observation.
There are countless other questions you can ask to prompt your observational inventorying. And with each question you have the root of more questions; each question gets more and more specific.
And this is where research begins. The better the questions, the more specific your study, and true more precise your answers. (Not to mention you get more of them – not all "more" efforts are bad ones.)
Before you go looking for more, look at what you got. Before you go looking to do more, look at how you can take better responsibility for what you have done. You will quickly discover that the one thing common to all the questions is some form of better healing, not better assaults of damage. And that healing leads to better growth, more strength, and probably a damn happier person.
The best bodybuilders are the best healers. They are not always the most skilled lifters. They are not always the most scientific eaters. They are simply the best at healing themselves, and thus getting ahead.
I have said it time and time again.
So often I am asked: "Can you build muscle and burn fat at the same time, doing both maximally?"
The answer is: yes. However, you need the right piece of equipment to do so.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you one of the ultimate pieces of equipment:
I hear a lot of people described their workouts as "insane." Like, I hear this term used a lot.
Now, I get what people "mean" when they use that term. However, when I hear something over and over again it kind of gets stuck in my mind; and then I begin pondering it.
Now, my work in helping people develop more meaningful programming often veers into their psychological and spiritual well-being. After all, the majority of obstacles people face are self-created; products of the mind or deficits of their emotional well-being. And because I am so often discussing people's mental states in this coaching process, you can see why the repetitive use of the word "insane" would sort of ring a bell in my mind.
Now, most of us will agree with the layman's definition of the word "insane": repeating over and over an action that causes us deficit yet each time believing we will get a different result. That repeating of the same negative behavior is what is considered "insanity" in most circles. And that is the definition I think of whenever I hear that word.
So, now go back to the original use; people describing their workouts as amazing, incredible, and challenging. Their workouts are "insane." Or so they say. Yet the first thing that pops into my mind is "So, then that work out you just had was a bad thing that you can't stop doing?"
By nature, "insane workouts" are the good ones. Our "total insanity gym time" is the most helpful, and not at all to be considered deficit.
But then I go and see what people are doing during these "insane workouts." They are so driven with the idea of being hard-core, bad ass and super intense that they often are acting quite insane. They are leaving themselves open for injury, acting like a douche bags, and doing ridiculous work that really doesn't contribute to any greater progress. And they are doing these deficit things mainly so that they can come back and report to anyone who's interested that they just, indeed, had an "insane workout."
People who want to brag about their insanity in the gym seem most often to me only interested in the bragging, which thus actually does seem insane. To keep doing stupid shit over and over and expect it to give you a good result is exactly the definition most people agree is "insane."
So, while I would prefer to be involved with work that return us to a sane version of living our lives, I actually cannot argue with the use of the term "insane" to describe workouts most of the time. So, while they may be deficit, they are at least accurately described: insane.
As for me, I'm going to stick with self challenge as a means of learning, but not as a means of bragging. I doubt anyone will be impressed when I describe my next set of deadlifts as "the most sane shit you ever saw go down in a gym," but I don't think I will mind very much.
Enter those continuing to have "insane workouts," carry-on. Nothing to contribute here.